Not only is science fiction an idea of tremendous import, but it is to be an important factor in making the world a better place to live in, through educating the public to the possibilities of science and the influence of science on life which, even today, are not appreciated by the man on the street. ... If every man, woman, boy and girl, could be induced to read science fiction right along, there would certainly be a great resulting benefit to the community, in that the educational standards of its people would be raised tremendously. Science fiction would make people happier, give them a broader understanding of the world, make them more tolerant.
— Hugo Gernsback
Editorial, Science Fiction Week (1930). In Gary Westfahl, Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction (2007), 166.
Hugo Gernsback and the Invention of the Science Fiction Megatext
Robert Bee’s picture
Thu, 01/13/2011 - 01:00 — Robert Bee
Hugo Gernsback is simultaneously one of the most revered and despised figures in the history of science fiction. He has been called “the father of science fiction” and the Hugos, the genre’s most prestigious awards, are named after him. He was the guest of honor at the 1952 Worldcon. Gernsback’s achievements include founding the first SF magazine, Amazing Stories, naming the genre “scientifiction” (missing the eventual term by a syllable), starting the first reader letter columns, and organizing the first fan organization, the Science Fiction League, which encouraged the spread of fandom and eventually led to fanzines and webzines like Republibot.
Gernsback wanted scientifiction to be a forward thinking genre that educated the public in the tremendous future promised by science and technology. For Gernsback, SF contained a message that taught us that science and technology could create a glorious future and allow problem-solving humans to ameliorate the ills of existence. In the first issue of Amazing Stories, Gernsback defined scientifiction as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Gernsback wanted writers to pad their stories with extensive scientific fact to educate as well entertain their readers. Gernsback believed SF would become the most important genre of modern literature because it was best able to predict and understand scientific and technological change.
Bradbury read stuff published by Gernsback.
True, science fiction is neither predictive nor didactic. It has not been since the 1920s, but I sometimes wonder if it needs to be once again. Back then, it was a marketing gimmick, a way of selling the newly-formed genre to readers of electronics and popular science magazines. Now, the genre has grown far too sophisticated for the simplistic agendas of Gernsback and his contemporaries. As a literary mode of fiction, it has evolved a vast repertoire of tropes, an extensive toolkit, and a lexicon that is in many ways peculiar to it. And along with this increase in sophistication has come a shift in viewpoint from the immediate to the abstract.
SF today is read by a lot of dummies who regard themselves as sophisticated. Neuromancer is good science fiction? Please! But you run across it mentioned all of the time.